Catherine Johnson has written many books for teens and Young Adults. She also writes for screen, including the feature film Bullet Boy, Holby City for the BBC, and the Prix Italia shortlisted radio play Fresh Berries.
She is a born and bred Londoner who went to St Martin’s School of Art (a million years ago) and who now lives in Hastings.
Black history is for everyone
Guest Post by Catherine Johnson
Most people know me for my historical novels, Sawbones or The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo. But I’ve been a published writer for a very long time and I’ve written lots of books, not all of them historical. So how did I get into writing stories set in the past? Have I got a history degree perhaps? Er, no….
I loved history and primary school; I can remember a hugely involved project on Cortez and the Conquistadors done in gold on black paper. But I was a bit of a loss at secondary school; in fact I did so badly in what is now Year Nine I wasn’t allowed to continue to O level (I am older than GCSEs).
So why do it? Well it is mostly, I think, about belonging. About saying that people like me have been here in Britain for a very long time. About making it clear that when you tell me to ‘go home’ (which seems sadly to be a thing again these days) you understand that this is my home. And of course it’s about writing a -hopefully – exciting and thrilling story!
This island’s history is one of movement and flow for since long before Roman times. People do forget when they bang on about the English language that it is a mongrel language cobbled together from German and French and that if this country had managed to repel all those pesky economic migrants from Germany and Denmark we’d all still be speaking Welsh.
And black history in the UK is a very long one. From the wealthy Roman woman of African origin found buried in Roman York to the sizeable black population of Georgian England, people like me have made our presence felt over thousands of years.
For example when I visit schools, students are often surprised to hear that another of Elizabeth the First’s famous quotes – apart from that ‘I have the heart and stomach of a man’ one – concerns the fact that she thought there were too many black people in London and wanted them out – she failed of course.
So I hope my books hold up a different kind of mirror to British history, one that says this is all our country and we all belong. And if you’re interested read Staying Power by Peter Fryer. It’s a really great accessible non-fiction about Black and Asian British history.
Oh and Blade and Bone is out now, published by Walker Books. It’s Ezra’s story foremost – he’s my 17-year-old surgeon anatomist, as well as his mates, swordswoman and magicians’ assistant Loveday Finch and Mahmoud, runaway heir to the Ottoman throne. But it also features one of my favourite people from the past General Thomas Alexandre Dumas hero of the revolutionary army and model for every one of the Three Musketeers as well as the Count of Monte Cristo.
Young surgeon Ezra McAdam must hasten to Paris to rescue his friend Loveday Finch and her charge Mahmoud, the Ottoman prince, who have been caught up in the Revolution. On the way, Ezra experiences the war first hand on the battlefields of Northern France, where his surgical skills are in high demand by the beleaguered French army. Meanwhile, in Paris, the guillotine is busy, and the medical world is finding the surfeit of bodies useful to its research into the seat of life. Ezra is not persuaded by the controversial theories of his French colleagues, but his mind is on other matters.
Finding Loveday and Mahmoud is proving harder than he had imagined: it would appear that Paris really is the most dangerous place on earth. Ezra’s search takes him from the grand Hotel Dieu to the dark catacombs below the city; from the opulent War Office to the tall, forbidding Conciergerie – the city prison – here he must undertake the most audacious rescue attempt of all.
Blade and Bone is out now!